I received a call from a teacher a couple weeks ago. She was having trouble keeping her class listening and asked me to come and observe to see if I had any tips fer her. The next day I went out for a visit. It was very easy to see what the issues were that contributed to her students not listening in just a couple minutes of watching. Normally I talk about preschool classes but this was a class of 8-10 year olds. Even though the students were older I find the same rules apply to any age that you teach.

The first thing that I observed was the teacher’s demeanor. She appeared a bit annoyed and impatient with the students because they were not listening to her. The second thing that I noticed was that she was directing her students by using only her words. These two things are going to equal a class that does not listen. Why is this?

I will tell you what advice I gave her. The first thing is that you need to go into class knowing that children just don’t listen. This is not a negative comment about children it is just a fact. This is especially true for classes like my program offers. We are a non-competitive recreational program and teach children that mostly come to our classes just for fun. They are not serious dancers.

I told her to not take it personally. The students were not trying to make her mad they were just being kids. You have to just take it as fact that they are not going to listen. Unless…you stay positive and have big energy! Being mad will not work. Just expecting them to listen will not work. For example, to get them all together, say with energy, while standing tall in the middle of the room and your hands extended, “Okay everyone, join me and make a circle! We are going to do something fun!”

Your body helps tremendously. Like I said at the beginning, the second thing that I noticed was that the teacher was telling her students what she wanted them to do with only her voice. That is not going to work. As a teacher you will need to physically show the students what to do. When teaching them choreography, don’t just say, “This group is going to chassé from the side and go to the center.” You must go to their side of the room and show them how to chassé in and go to the exact spot that you want them to go to. I think the reason this works is that # 1, it is just easier to learn when students can actually see what is wanted from them and # 2, it adds more positive energy to the class.

Just making these adjustments this teacher’s class changed completely. The class started listening better and she was able to be more relaxed and have fun!

Maybe with advanced students you can direct more and show less. However being someone who has not only taught for many years but has taken classes for many years from many different teachers the more teachers demonstrate and are actively present in the class the better in my opinion. It is easier to understand movement through visualization and students need that positive energy from teachers to motivate themselves.

When I lived in NYC I took tap classes from Barbara Duffy who, if you know who she is, you know that she is an amazing dancer. She is also an amazing teacher! When I moved back to Minnesota I was very sad to say goodbye to all my New York dance instructors. I learned so much from them. Then a couple years ago I was very excited to hear that Barbara was going to be in town to give a master class. She gave a few classes in a row and I took them all. By then end I was exhausted (to my defense I had just had my first child 🙂 ) however Barbara looked as if she could go all day! I made a comment on how much she danced with the class. She said that it was just part of her job. She wanted the students to watch her and try to dance exactly how she dances. I was inspired by that! Students need to see what good dancing is so they can copy it and learn.

So remember, show your students what to do by setting a good example and stay positive!!!